Stepping Out (Tour - Manchester)
With a star-name cast, this 25th Anniversary production of Richard Harris' popular play - Stepping Out should sparkle. Unfortunately all that glitters here is not quite gold.
The premise of an adult tap class featuring a disparate group of woman and one man should and could be relevant today. But, unfortunately this production seems lost between the era it was originally set and the present, rendering it dated.
The 'let's put on a show' scenario follows the group as they prepare to appear in a local charity show and their varous attempts to get a routine together. Needless to say it has the upbeat ending expected, making it feel-good and fluffy.
A strong cast of characters do their best to pull the play through and there are excellent performances – especially from Wendy Mae Brown as Rose, Carrie Ellis as Maxine and Lucy Williamson as the dance teacher Mavis. But praise is due across the board as this is truly an ensemble piece and all the actors are very good.
Harris' wife attended a similar class, so it should at the very least feel heartfelt and rooted in some sense of reality. The show features some strong writing and excellent one-liners, but it still feels stilted. It is also difficult to find any emotional connection to any of the characters, which remain cardboard stereotypes.
Jessie Wallace is well cast as the brash Sylvia, although the blonde wig is rather extreme and unflattering. Brian Capron is suitably meek and mild in both his speech and posture as the token male Geoffrey. However the show is stolen by theatre pro Rosemary Ashe as the feisty pianist Mrs Fraser. Unrecognisable under a grey wig, hats and make-up, she delivers her lines with conviction and purpose.
Ken Harrison's set is reminiscent of many chill and dreary church halls and provides an excellent location for the actors with evocative lighting by Jason Taylor. Director Richard Bacon uses the space well and yet never manages to truly create a sense of movement.
Choreographer Kenn Oldfield has put together routines which are easy to get wrong and yet work incredibly well when they go right. The actors are all excellent at both parts of the choreography being suitably inept at the start to a well trained chorus line at the end.
Overall, whilst this is a worthy production, maybe Stepping Out should remain a classic of its time, as it seems too quaint and lite in comparison with modern theatre.
-Helen Jones (reviewed at the Manchester Opera House)